To label the recent trend of musicians putting a modern or contemporary spin on songs and sounds from generations past a sudden resurgence would be a grave misnomer; the music has never left–nor has it changed–as the world around it shifted and morphed and brought with it new soundscapes, creators, and connoisseurs. Nevertheless, how refreshing and inspiring it is to come upon said “new” takes on “old” sounds–whether it be the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ brilliant revitalization of the Black folk music tradition, or the late Amy Winehouse’s effortless evocation of 60s soul and R&B, or the Heritage Blues Orchestra serving up a hearty concoction of blues, gospel, country, and soul on their debut offering, And Still I Rise.
The New York-based Heritage Blues Orchestra features singer Chaney Sims, her father Bill Sims, Jr. (vocals and electric and acoustic guitar), and Junior Mack (vocals, dobro, and electric and slide guitar). Taking their cue from the enduring legacy of traditional blues, call-and-response, and the rollicking gospel that sends listeners on a sonic journey down through the Mississippi Delta, the trio breathes life anew into well-worn tunes and delivers them with stellar results. The album opens with the Junior Mack-led “Clarksdale Moan”, a song originally recorded in 1930 by blues man Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. On its heels comes Chaney Sims at the helm for “C-Line Woman”. Also referred to as “Sea Lion Woman” and “See Line Woman”, the song was famously recorded and performed by none other than Nina Simone, and more recently reinterpreted by pop singer Feist. But the pulsating rhythm of Heritage Blues Orchestra’s version stands on its own, frenetic in its promise to move your feet. Equally impressive are the rich, soul-stirring a capella “Levee Camp Holler” and “Big-Legged Woman”, a saucy ode to the fairer sex and her seductive wiles. And the trio’s take on Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues” will take you all the way back to the juke joint (brown liquor and all), even if you’ve never been.
And Still I Rise will be for many a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and will for others be a fantastic introduction to one of America’s greatest cultural contributions to the world stage: The blues.
Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter from Dallas, TX, based in the Bay Area. Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, and follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/rhondanicolemusic and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock.